DUP MP: We could pull out of Stormont if London imposes Irish act

DUP MP Sammy Wilson has suggested that if the government side-steps Stormont to bring an Irish language act into force, then unionists could simply cease participating in the Assembly.

Wednesday, 16th June 2021, 7:00 am
Updated Wednesday, 16th June 2021, 9:12 am

He was speaking to the News Letter following demands from Sinn Fein for Boris Johnson’s government to act unilaterally and bring such an act into being, much as it did with abortion in Northern Ireland.

The government’s Northern Ireland Office was asked yesterday about the prospect of this happening, and failed to offer any response to our questions (see below).

With Arlene Foster’s tenure as First Minister having ended, the process to appoint her successor is begun.

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Sammy Wilson

But in order for this to happen Sinn Fein must nominate a Deputy First Minister – and it has signalled that unless it gets a guarantee of an Irish language act, it will not do so.

In a statement over the weekend, the DUP had said “no-one would forgive Sinn Fein” if it once against prevents a government from being formed.

The DUP agreed to create an Irish language commissioner and to enshrine Irish as an official language of Northern Ireland as part of the January 2020 New Decade New Approach deal with Sinn Fein.

That deal was the basis for resurrecting Stormont, after three years in limbo brought about by Sinn Fein walking out of power-sharing (with a demand for an Irish act touted as its possible price for re-entering government).

Late on Monday night, Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald said: “This evening we met with the British government and told them that they need to move the Irish language legislation through Westminster.

“A number of weeks ago the British government offered to legislate for Acht Gaeilge (Irish Language Act) in this way... This is the only way forward to finally resolve this issue.”

Mr Wilson then issued a statement early yesterday morning via the DUP’s central press office, saying: “Rather than running to Her Majesty’s when they can’t get their way, Republicans should respect our mandate.

“Sinn Fein is playing the politics of ransom and are placing culture above health, education and economic recovery.”

When asked what the DUP may actually do if the Tories go ahead and enable an Irish language act, Mr Wilson told the News Letter yesterday: “I hope the Secretary of State has enough moral courage and political understanding to know that this would be a disastrous decision for him.

“Morally, how can he possibly – for the fourth time – roll over to Sinn Fein?

“He did it on gay marriage. Did it on abortion. He’s done it on the Protocol.”

Mr Wilson wondered how, if such a “scandalous” intervention comes to pass over an Irish language act, Brandon Lewis (the Northern Ireland Secretary) can “expect unionists to co-operate in an Assembly which he robs of its devolved powers every time Sinn Fein demands he does so”.

Mr Wilson went on to add: “He has got to understand there is only a certain level of toleration of this.

The Assembly is of low enough standing at present, especially amongst the unionist community.

“I think that, leaving aside what political parties may do, many unionists will ask the question: What is the point of voting people into an Assembly on the basis that they make certain promises to do things – or not to do things – and then are incapable of keeping those promises, because the ability to deliver on them is taken off them by the British government?”

Asked if he was saying that the DUP’s next step would be to ditch its involvement with the Assembly if Brandon Lewis accedes to Sinn Fein’s demand on an Irish act, Mr Wilson replied: “Let’s put it this way. Sinn Fein say they will not participate if they don’t get an Irish language [act]. Equally, he’s got to ask himself the question: Can unionists participate in an Assembly where all the power to deal with the issues which are important to their community is taken from them at a whim by the Secretary of State?

“He’s got to ask himself: Would any self-respecting political party or politician allow themselves to be messed around like that?”

He said that he had not discussed the matter with party colleagues, but added: “It would be humiliating to participate in an elected body where, on a regular basis (and this is on a regular basis now), powers are taken from you just in order to keep Sinn Fein happy...

“By refusing to co-operate in that game, people in Northern Ireland should recognise that we are actually defending the whole concept of local democracy.

“Parties in Scotland and parties in Wales wouldn’t stand for that in their devolved administrations!”

Mr Wilson also noted that, during the Sinn Fein-induced limbo from 2017 to 2020, the UK government “wouldn’t lift a finger” to take control of politicial decision-making in the Province “because [they] couldn’t get Sinn Fein’s agreement”.

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